Falls Creek. Davis, Oklahoma 1995.
It was a muggy summer evening in a dimly lit cabin full of teenagers. I squirmed nervously as I stood against a painted cement block wall, knowing it was time to make my decision. There was no aisle to walk, no pew to pray on. Just a room full of bowed heads and willing hearts. I could see my pastor praying out of the corner of my eye. Was he praying for me? Me, the sad little girl from Austin. The misplaced Texan with the funny accent, wild clothes and a hurting heart? Me, who he had to literally drag to camp. I wouldn’t even ride the bus with the rest of the group. Some might have viewed it as snobbery, the real truth was it was fear. Fear of not being accepted . . . by them, by the kids at camp, by God. Didn’t God know the darkness of my heart; the depth of the hurt from the junk going on at home between my parents on the brink of a split; the loneliness? And all the times I had blasphemed and walked away from the gospel? Would He accept me now?
I had arrived at camp, which was not anything like any camp I had been to. Besides the dirt, the heat, the streets teaming with kids, there was an electricity in the air. All week long, everywhere I turned, I heard The Name. His name. The story, the message, the hope. Jesus.
On a Thursday night after the worship service in the wooden, open-air tabernacle, my heart came alive. I understood my sin; called it what it was. I wanted – no – I needed salvation. I needed Him to love me for me. I needed a hope and a future. So there I stood, quite literally, backed up against a wall. Heads all bowed, someone quietly singing Amazing Grace . . . I sighed audibly and in my heart and prayed, asking Jesus to forgive me, to come into my life and my heart, vowing to follow Him all of my days.
My eyes snapped open. I could feel my heart thrumming in my chest. It would all be different now . . . and it was. As the devotional time ended and the group filed out and up to the dormitories, I stopped and took my pastor’s hand, simply blurting out, “I want to be baptized tomorrow.” His face registered a mixture of surprise, confusion and joy. “Have you accepted Christ as your Savior?” he asked tentatively. I grinned. “Yes. Just now!” I exclaimed. He smiled broadly. I knew he could see it in my eyes. He hugged me saying, “Tomorrow morning then!” I went to bed, for maybe the first time in many years, with peace.
The next morning was beautiful and cool. The dust on the ground dappled with the shadows of early summer leaves shimmering in the breeze. I dressed in my favorite jeans and a long flowered blouse for my baptism. After breakfast we headed down to the creek, its clear, cold water tumbling rapidly over mossy rocks. My pastor waded carefully out into the middle of a shallow section and began to call us who were to be baptized one by one. At last, I heard my name and leaped up to make my way to the middle where my pastor gripped my arms to hold me up against the current. I gasped; the water was cold but exhilarating. I looked up and around at the faces of the kids I had come to camp with, these kids I had struggled with to be accepted, and I saw that we were all one in the same, sinners needing grace.
Then, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost my pastor dipped me back, and I slipped under the rush of cool water and bursting up and out into the warm air . . . new. New! I grinned like a fool and sloshed my way to the bank where my group clapped and cheered and a towel awaited. I shivered there in the morning sunlight knowing that I would never be the same again.
I thought of all this today as I joined in celebrating the baptisms of new believers at my church. My own was such a long time ago, more than fifteen years now, and still so fresh in my mind. I am so thankful for this gift He gave, for the joy of salvation and for the beauty of obedience in baptism.